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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva passing through the crowd of his supporters after his speech in front of ABC Metallurgists Union in San Bernardo do Campo, Brazil Nov. 9, 2019. (Photo: Felipe Beltrame/NurPhoto/PA Images)

Lula Vows to 'Battle for Democracy' Against Bolsonaro Push to 'Destroy' Decades of Progress in Brazil

The former Brazilian president gave his first interview with a foreign newspaper since his release from prison two weeks ago.

Jessica Corbett

Leftist former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared in an exclusive interview published Friday by The Guardian that his mission now is to "battle for democracy" against the efforts of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to "destroy" the South American country.

"Bolsonaro has already made clear what he wants for Brazil: he wants to destroy all of the democratic and social conquests from the last decades," said Lula, as the leftist leader is globally known, in his first interview with a foreign newspaper since being released from prison two weeks ago.

"Let's hope that Bolsonaro doesn't destroy Brazil," added Lula. "Let's hope he does something good for the country... but I doubt that."

Bolsonaro took office in January and, as Common Dreams reported, quickly got to work "introducing policies targeting the environment, Indigenous Brazilians, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized populations, realizing the worst fears of progressives who have protested the openly misogynist, pro-torture president."

Lula's new interview occasionally took a global focus, such as when he called the recent forced resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales a "coup" that "is terrible for Latin America," but much of his commentary centered on concerns about the conditions of Brazil under Bolsonaro. As Lula said, "I regret that Brazil is becoming a country where spreading hate is becoming part of people's daily lives."

Bolsonaro has garnered widespread criticism not only within Brazil but far beyond its borders throughout his first year in office—particularly for the "alarmingly high" rate of deforestation in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon rainforest this year that has experts warning "we are approaching a potential tipping point, where large parts of the forest will be so damaged that it collapses."

"Brazil's image is negative right now. We have a president who doesn't govern, who sits discussing fake news 24 hours a day," said Lula. "Brazil has to have a role on the international stage." Lula also called Bolsonaro's "submission" to U.S. President Donald Trump "really embarrassing."

In terms of Brazil's 2018 election, Lula said that "no one predicted Bolsonaro's election—not even him" and "people voted for Bolsonaro, in the main, because Lula wasn't a candidate." Lula was prevented from running against Bolsonaro because of what the leftist leader has condemned as politically motivated corruption charges, tied to the Operation Car Wash probe, that led to him spending 580 days behind bars.

Since June, The Intercept Brazil has published explosive reporting on a massive archive of materials exposing "highly controversial, politicized, and legally dubious internal discussions and secret actions by the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption task force of prosecutors, led by the chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, along with then-Judge Sergio Moro, now [Bolsonaro's] powerful and internationally celebrated justice minister."

In an op-ed published Thursday by The Washington Post,  Lula referenced The Intercept's reporting on the "Secret Brazil Archive," writing that "these revelations have rocked Brazilians and the world because they showed that a once acclaimed anti-corruption effort had been politicized, tainted, and illegal."

Lula, in his piece for the Post, explained his ongoing battles to defeat the corruption charges and secure a better future for his country:

I've never asked for special treatment, only fair, impartial and independent treatment under the law. That is why I will continue to fight vigorously to clear my name from partisan legal attacks; my recent release from captivity isn’t the end of the legal fight—it is only the beginning.

Parallel to my legal fight, I will be setting out a positive political agenda for the future of Brazil. My role is to help bring people together, as I have always done, in our increasingly fractured and polarized society. Central to my vision is to help Brazilians rebuild their trust in our political and legal institutions.

In the Brazil I aspire to help rebuild, human and legal rights—including those of my political opponents—will be protected and strengthened. It is the sign of a strong democracy when every citizen is able to take pride in and trust the strength of its institutions.

Although Lula told The Guardian that "the Workers' Party is preparing to come back and govern this country," the ex-president did not suggest he plans to seek another term in Brazil's next general election. As he put it: "In 2022, I'll be 77. The Catholic church—with 2,000 years of experience—retires its bishops at 75."

However, The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald—who received the last letter Lula sent from prison—suggested on Jeremy Scahill's Intercepted podcast last week that another Lula term may still be possible:

JS: Do you get the sense that he does, in fact, want to run for president again?

GG: Absolutely. I mean, right now, technically, his political rights are still suspended because of the conviction. So his conviction hasn't yet been annulled. He's going to try and get his conviction annulled using the evidence that we've been reporting, but it's likely the Supreme Court will rule that his political rights need to be restored until his appeals are completed. He obviously feels with very good reason that the presidency was robbed from him in 2018.

Remember, he was leading all the polls by 15 or 20 points over Bolsonaro at the time that Judge Moro convicted him on very dubious charges. He's been working out in prison. He's probably in better shape than he's been in in 20 or 30 years. He has a new younger girlfriend that he intends to marry. He's very rejuvenated and he definitely intends to restore himself to what he believes his proper place is.

Greenwald is an American journalist who lives in Brazil with his husband, Brazilian Congressman David Miranda. Since The Intercept started reporting on the archive in June, Greenwald explained on the podcast, the Bolsonaro government and its supporters have engaged in "a constant onslaught of threats of violence, threats of prison, fake news attacks, smears against both myself and David."

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